|Regions with significant populations|
|(in North Ossetia–Alania)||480,310|
(excluding South Ossetia)
|Ossetian, Russian, Georgian|
|Predominantly † Eastern Orthodox Christianity|
with a sizeable minority professing Uatsdin, and Islam
|Related ethnic groups|
|North Caucasian peoples, the Jassic people of Hungary, and other Iranian peoples|
a. ^ The total figure is merely an estimation; sum of all the referenced populations.
The Ossetians or Ossetes (//; Ossetian: ир, ирæттæ, ir, irættæ; дигорӕ, дигорӕнттӕ, digoræ, digorænttæ) are an Iranian ethnic group of the Caucasus Mountains, indigenous to the ethnolinguistic region known as Ossetia. They speak Ossetic, an Eastern Iranian (Alanic) language of the Indo-European language family, with most also fluent in Russian as a second language. The Ossetian language is neither closely related to nor mutually intelligible with any other language of the family today. Ossetic, a remnant of the Scytho-Sarmatian dialect group which was once spoken across the Pontic–Caspian Steppe, is one of the few Iranian languages inside Europe.
The Ossetians mostly populate Ossetia, which is politically divided between North Ossetia–Alania in Russia, and South Ossetia, a de facto independent state with partial recognition, closely integrated in Russia and claimed by Georgia. Their closest relatives, the Jász, live in the Jászság region within the north-western part of the Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok County in Hungary.
The Ossetians and Ossetia received their name from the Russians, who adopted the Georgian designations Osi (ოსი) (sing., pl.: Osebi (ოსები)) and Oseti ("the land of Osi" (ოსეთი)), used since the Middle Ages for the single Iranian-speaking population of the Central Caucasus and probably based on the old Alan self-designation "As". As the Ossetians lacked any single inclusive name for themselves in their native language, these terms were accepted by the Ossetians themselves already before their integration into the Russian Empire.
This practice was put into question by the new Ossetian nationalism in the early 1990s, when the dispute between the Ossetian subgroups of Digoron and Iron over the status of the Digoron dialect made the Ossetian intellectuals search for a new inclusive ethnic name. This, combined with the effects of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, led to the popularization of "Alania", the name of the medieval Sarmatian confederation, to which the Ossetians traced their origin, and inclusion of this name into the official republican title of North Ossetia in 1994.
- Iron in the east and south form a larger group of Ossetians. They speak Iron dialect. Irons are divided into several subgroups: Alagirs, Kurtats, Tagaurs, Kudar, Tual, Urstual, and Chsan.
- Digoron in the west. Digors live in Digora district, Iraf district, and some settlements in Kabardino-Balkaria and Mozdok district. They speak Digor dialect.
The folk beliefs of the Ossetian people are rooted in their Sarmatian origin and Christian religion, with the pagan gods having been converted into Christian saints. The Nart saga serves as the basic pagan mythology of the region.
Pre-history (Early Alans)
The Ossetians descend from the Alans, a Sarmatian tribe (Scythian subgroup of the Iranian ethnolinguistic group). The Alans were the only branch of the Sarmatians to keep their culture in the face of a Gothic invasion (c. 200 CE), and those who remained built a great kingdom between the Don and Volga Rivers, according to Coon, The Races of Europe. Between 350 and 374 CE, the Huns destroyed the Alan kingdom, and the Alan people were split in half. One half fled to the west, where they participated in the Barbarian Invasions of Rome, established short-lived kingdoms in Spain and North Africa, and settled in many other places such as Orléans, France. The other half fled to the south and settled on the plains of the North Caucasus, where they established their medieval kingdom of Alania.
In the 8th century a consolidated Alan kingdom, referred to in sources of the period as Alania, emerged in the northern Caucasus Mountains, roughly in the location of the latter-day Circassia and the modern North Ossetia–Alania. At its height, Alania was a centralized monarchy with a strong military force and had a strong economy that benefited from the Silk Road.
After the Mongol invasions of the 1200s, the Alans were forced out of their medieval homeland south of the River Don in present-day Russia. Due to this, the Alans migrated toward the Caucasus Mountains, where they would form three ethnographical groups; the Iron, the Digoron, and the Kudar. The Jassic people were a fourth group that migrated in the 13th century to Hungary.
In more-recent history, the Ossetians participated in the Ossetian–Ingush conflict (1991–1992) and Georgian–Ossetian conflicts (1918–1920, early 1990s) and in the 2008 South Ossetia war between Georgia and Russia.
- 1774 — Ossetia becomes part of the Russian Empire.
- 1801 — Following the Treaty of Georgievsk, the modern-day territory of South Ossetia becomes part of the Russian Empire, along with Georgia.
- 1922 — Ossetia is divided into two parts: North Ossetia remains a part of the Russian SFSR, while South Ossetia remains a part of the Georgian SSR.
- 20 September 1990 – The independent Republic of South Ossetia is formed. Though it remained unrecognized, it detached itself from Georgia de facto. In the last years of the Soviet Union, ethnic tensions between Ossetians and Georgians in Georgia's former Autonomous Oblast of South Ossetia (abolished in 1990) and between Ossetians and Ingush in North Ossetia evolved into violent clashes that left several hundred dead and wounded and created a large tide of refugees on both sides of the border.
Ossetian is divided into two main dialect groups: Ironian (os. – Ирон) in North and South Ossetia; and Digorian (os. – Дыгурон) in western North Ossetia. In these two groups are some subdialects, such as Tualian, Alagirian, and Ksanian. The Ironian dialect is the most widely spoken.
Ossetian is among the remnants of the Scytho-Sarmatian dialect group, which was once spoken across the Pontic–Caspian Steppe. The Ossetian language is not mutually intelligible with any other Iranian language.
Prior to the 10th century, Ossetians were strictly pagan. They were partially Christianized by Byzantine missionaries in the beginning of the 10th century. By the 13th, most Ossetians were Eastern Orthodox Christians as a result of Georgian influence and missionary work.
Islam was introduced during the 16th and 17th century by the converted members of the Circassian Kabarday tribe (who had been introduced to that religion by Tatars during the 15th century), who had taken over territory in Western Ossetia occupied by the Digor. However, Islam did not successfully spread to rest of the Ossetian people.
In 1774 Ossetia became part of the Russian Empire, which strengthened Orthodox Christianity considerably by sending Russian Orthodox missionaries there. However, most of the missionaries chosen were churchmen from Eastern Orthodox communities living in Georgia, including Armenians and Greeks, as well as ethnic Georgians. Russian missionaries were not sent, as this would have been regarded by the Ossetians as too intrusive.
Today, the majority of Ossetians from both North and South Ossetia follow Eastern Orthodoxy. Assianism (Uatsdin or Assdin in Ossetian), the Ossetian ethnic religion, is also widespread among Ossetians, with ritual traditions like animal sacrifices, holy shrines, non-Christian saints, etc. There are temples, known as kuvandon, in most villages. According to the research service Sreda, North Ossetia is the primary center of Ossetian Paganism, and 29% of the population reported practicing pagan faiths in the 2012 Russian census. Assianism has been rising in popularity since the 1980s.
According to a 2013 estimate, up to 15% of North Ossetia’s population practice Islam.
The northern Ossetians export lumber and cultivate various crops, mainly corn. The southern Ossetians are chiefly pastoral, herding sheep, goats, and cattle. Traditional manufactured products include leather goods, fur caps, daggers, and metalware.
Outside of South Ossetia, there are also a significant number of Ossetians living in Trialeti, in north-central Georgia. A large Ossetian diaspora lives in Turkey, and Ossetians have also settled in Belgium, France, Sweden, Syria, the United States (primarily New York City, Florida and California), Canada (Toronto), Australia (Sydney), and other countries all around the world.
Russian Census of 2002
The vast majority of Ossetians live in Russia (according to the Russian Census (2002)):
- North Ossetia–Alania — 445,300
- Moscow — 10,500
- Kabardino-Balkaria — 9,800
- Stavropol Krai — 7,700
- Krasnodar Krai — 4,100
- Karachay–Cherkessia — 3,200
- Saint Petersburg — 2,800
- Rostov Oblast — 2,600
- Moscow Oblast — 2,400
The Ossetians are a unique ethnic group of the Caucasus, speaking an Indo-European language surrounded mostly by Caucasian ethnolinguistic groups, the other non-Caucasian tribes include the Karachays and Balkars. The Y-haplogroup data indicate that North Ossetians are more similar to other North Caucasian groups, and South Ossetians to other South Caucasian groups, than the two are to each other. With respect to mtDNA, Ossetians are significantly more similar to some Iranian groups than to Caucasian groups. It is thus suggested that there is a common origin of Ossetians from the Proto-Iranian Urheimat, followed by subsequent male-mediated migrations from their Caucasian neighbours.
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Sergei Guriev, economist
Nikolay Bagrayev, politician
Soslan Ramonov, wrestler
Shota Bibilov, professional footballer
Ruslan Karaev, professional kickboxer
Vladimir Gabulov, Ossetian goalkeeper
Valery Gergiev, conductor
- Digor (people)
- Iron (people)
- Jassic people
- Alexander Kubalov
- Ossetians in Trialeti
- Ossetians in Turkey
- Peoples of the Caucasus
- Terek Cossacks
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Ossetic is not mutually intelligible with any other Iranian language.
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